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Inspiring Teamwork: Lessons From a Serial Collaborator

Whitney Johnson

Thinker, Writer, Speaker, Advisor, Doer

One of my favorite Disrupt Yourself podcast guests in 2018 was Peter Sims—serial entrepreneur, author of Little Bets and founder of ParliamentBLK SHP and Silicon Guild. He began his career in venture capital, but with time and maturity, he recognized that the long work weeks and bizarre hours weren't for him. He left that world to enroll in business school at Stanford, where he realized that what he loved most was collaborating with fellow entrepreneurs as they worked to realize their dreams.

Throughout his career, Sims has had a string of successful collaborations. At Stanford, for example, he met Bill George, former CEO of Medtronic, who was, at the time, a professor at Harvard Business School. They discovered a shared interest in effective, authentic leadership and George invited Sims to collaborate with him on a book titled True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership, which quickly became a bestseller.

With several similar success stories under his belt, Sims is now teaching others why being an effective collaborator is critical for employees across organizations, from entry level roles all the way up to the C-suite. After all, ideas developed by teams of three or more people have 156 percent greater appeal than those developed by teams where just one or two people have played a hands-on role. And while it may seem that creating a synergistic team often comes down to luck, there's also quite a bit of strategy involved. I asked Sims to dish on what makes someone an effective collaborator and how to create a collaborative workplace.

Three Attributes of Effective Collaborators

  • Curiosity is integral to discovery, innovation and, not coincidentally, to successful collaboration. "People who are curious and are lifelong learners are going to be drawn to other curious people who they think they can learn from through an interaction," says Sims.
  • Generosity has to be "at the core" of collaboration, says Sims, because collaboration is inherently a two-way street. Part of it is giving something—be it skills, advice or support—and part of it is receiving that back. After leaving the VC world, Sims became "very focused on people who had a certain value-set and were motivated more by creation than transaction." People who are only interested in gaining from collaborations aren't good partners, he explains.
  • Productivity is critical for an effective collaboration, because "good collaborators want to get stuff done. They don't want to talk—they want to do," Sims says.

Creating a Collaborative Workplace

Though the three attributes of effective collaboration that Sims outlines are often innate to certain employees, you can also cultivate these traits through the right training and corporate environment. Here's how:

1) Inspire Learning

Don't make the mistake of only offering new opportunities to employees as an incentive to stay when they are already halfway out the door. Learning initiatives and ongoing training both reward and cultivate curiosity, as does mixing up team composition and assignments on a regular basis. Challenge employees that have maxed out their potential in one role and are ready to disrupt themselves. Encouraging them to commit to a new project contributes to both employee retention and company innovation.

2) Provide Meaning

Many workers today are motivated not only by raises and promotions, but also by meaningful work and contributing to important social causes. Make sure company values are clearly defined and articulated. Be warned: businesses that focus solely on transactional relationships and the bottom line will be less attractive to generous collaborators.

3) Empower Problem-Solvers

Fill your workplace with people who relish challenge and find fulfillment in developing solutions to big problems. A team with only a few "can-do" personalities will be hamstrung by the less enthusiastic members. If an employee is disengaged, she may need a new challenge or, sometimes, a new workplace. Be strategic about meetings, avoid busy-work, unnecessary window dressing and other time wasters. These are irritants to effective collaborators who want to get stuff done.

In 2019, make fostering collaboration in the workplace a priority. Your employees may be craving collaboration more than you realize, and activating it can unleash innovation in a powerful way. "A lot of people are in jobs where they feel alone," Sims says. While isolated geniuses can have breakthrough ideas, most of us benefit from working in situations that favor positive collaboration. Even the least creative among us may have a flash of inspiration when in the company of stimulating friends.

Photo: Creative Commons

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